Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of this week’s chat is below. (Sign up here to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at email@example.com.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon. I look forward to your questions.
Q. Parenting, Dating: I've been divorced for five years, raised a wonderful daughter who is in her fourth year of college, and started dating a wonderful man one year ago. Things were going great for me, my daughter and my relationship with "Tim." Tim and I were set up by a mutual friend who is a professor at the college my daughter attends. My daughter took a class from him last year on my suggestion. While in that class she met and started dating a fellow classmate who decided to take the class because of a suggestion from his father. ... Yep you guessed it! My daughter and I are dating a father and son. I feel like I am in a horribly-written daytime soap opera. My daughter had met my boyfriend early in our relationship but was only just recently invited to meet her boyfriend's father—he is a widower of 10 years. She was in shock when she realized it was the same man, and I still am after finding out. I guess the question is what to do? Continue with our relationships? I feel like all four of us are getting serious and marriage has been talked about between both couples as well. Is it considered a major social scandal to have your daughter-in-law be your own daughter? Thanks, a Potential Mother-in-Law Mother.
A: You two couples should have a double wedding and instead of the Wedding March play, "I'm My Own Grandpa." It would be amusing if your daughter and her husband became stepsiblings, etc. but it's hardly a scandal. Both couples getting married would certainly solve the dilemma of deciding which in-law gets to see the kids at Thanksgiving and Christmas. The only red flag I see here is that your daughter and his son are a little young to be settling down. Many people do successfully marry their college sweethearts, but I don't see why they would rush into it. Young marriage does put people at a higher risk of divorce. If your daughter comes to you for advice about getting married upon graduation, separate out what you say from your own concern about how good a stepson her boyfriend would be.
Dear Prudence: Dog Owner in Mourning
Q. Daughter Inherited Dad's Birthmark: Both my husband and our daughter were born with port-wine stains on their faces. As a child, my husband's family pressured him to undergo laser treatment to have his birthmark mostly or completely removed. He ended up not undergoing treatment. Other than him being teased a bit as a child, his birthmark was mostly a nonissue. However, I believe some of his anti-social behavior stems from that. Our daughter is 6 and has been getting teased a little at school. She is starting to become socially withdrawn and is afraid of going out in public because occasionally both children and their parents ask about her birthmark. I have taught her how to respond to this attention. On the one hand, I would feel irresponsible if I suggest she gets laser treatment, because I would feel as though I'm telling her she's not "good" enough. On the other hand, I realize my husband's experience with minimal teasing is not common given his condition. My husband says I shouldn't mention laser treatment to her. I'm torn. What should I do?
A: You husband feels he made the right choice for himself. It would be interesting if you could rewind his life and see if his personality ended up being different if the birthmark had been removed, but you'll never know. What you do know is that your daughter is suffering now from unwanted attention because of a cosmetic problem. I'm not saying everyone should fit some limited notion of looks or personality. There are many things outside of the norm, both physical and mental, which people have to deal with because in lots of cases there's not much to be done. But there's no doubt, especially for children, that being different is harder. I don't see why your daughter has to overcome self-consciousness or deal with endless questions and staring because of such a superficial problem, one that has a solution. I have heard testimony from kids who have had too-prominent ears surgically pinned back who say how great it felt to finally look like everyone else. You are not telling your daughter that she—or even her father—are somehow lesser if you raise the possibility of removing the birthmark. You need to tell your husband that what worked for him is not necessarily the best thing for your daughter. Even if he won't accompany you, ask his understanding when you say you'd like to take your little girl to a dermatologist to discuss what removal would entail.
Q. Deadbeat Dad Dies, Friend Wants To Make Good: Dear Prudence, I received a message via Facebook about a month ago from person whose name I recognized, but have never met. It was my ex-husband's longtime friend informing me that he had committed suicide and begging me to contact her or his girlfriend. I thanked her for the information and told her I was sorry for her loss, but as I have not heard from him since our divorce 5 years ago, I really do not want anything to do with it. She wrote back with a message that the past is past and implied that I should be involved somehow in this mess. I got a little more explicit in describing that this man abandoned our children and while he may have been her best friend, I have no interest in anything having to do with him at this point. She is still insisting that she would love to be a part of my life and my children's lives and has even offered me some of his ashes! I feel very sorry for her as she is obviously grieving, but she is not understanding my position and I do not know how to tell her tactfully "thanks but no thanks." How do I let this grieving woman down gently without having to lay out word for word my exact feelings about my deadbeat-dad ex to her? Sincerely, Positively Perplexed.
A: The friend is not getting the message, so you need to say that you understand her grief, but you simply do not have room for her in your life and unfortunately you two simply cannot get together. This woman is a footnote, but I'm afraid you can't simply brush away the main story, which is that your children's father committed suicide. This is information they are entitled to, and you have to tailor how you deliver it to be age appropriate. As much as you may have hated the guy, you need to get past that and bring some compassion to how you tell your children that their father was a sad and ill man. Consider getting a counselor with expertise in such issues to help guide you, and them, through this. You simply can't declare you want nothing to do with the fact that the father of your children is dead.
Q. Wishing I Had Done It All Differently: I am a professional about to finish up a doctorate degree in a high-paying health care field. This has come at a fairly large financial cost (over $100K in loans) and great personal burden for both me and my partner, with whom I have been involved for 8 years. She has supported the household alone for the past three years as I studied, and we have always planned to have children and for her to stay home once I completed my degree. I'm 30 and she is 32, and her biological clock has been loudly ticking since we got together. The thing is, it has become starkly clear to me that I chose the wrong field. I have always wanted to be a medical doctor, but my spouse discouraged that dream on the basis that it would take too long, and I foolishly allowed myself to be discouraged. Over the past year of professional externships in health care settings, I have a hard time imagining that I will never get to be a physician. I have excelled in my current schooling and would be in a good position to be accepted to medical school. We have talked about my dream to go to medical school, and she has said that maybe in 10 years or so, after our (planned) kids are bigger, I could go. I worry about taking that tactic though, because you really need all the experience you can get, and that comes with time in the field. I feel terrible about the situation in which I've put my spouse, but on the other hand, I worry that I will never be truly happy living with such a large regret. What should I do? And if it's too late, how do I begin to grieve for my lost dreams?
A: Since you're involved with health care professionals every day take advantage of this fact and get some counseling—psychological and occupational—about what to do. You are an adult so you shouldn't feel you were bullied by your partner into a career you didn't want. If you were intent on becoming a doctor, you should have done so, even if it meant splitting from her. But having completed a very expensive education, it really seems to make sense for you to be out of school for a few years and get a better sense of the satisfactions of the career you've prepared for. Since you are around doctors, talk to some of them, especially the older ones. I don't know about you, but many of the ones I know, or have read about, suffer from burn-out given the tremendous pressure they are constantly under from all sides. Maybe you are idealizing another career because you aren't quite ready to leave the cocoon of school.